- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Something is beginning to stir in the Arab world; women are speaking up about the crushing burdens they bear in their male-dominated world. And this burden has little to with the religion of Islam itself. After all, the most populous Islamic country in the world is Indonesia, yet women there have such high status that one of them, Megawati Sukarnoputri, became the president of Indonesia in 2003.

One of the most outspoken manifestoes against Arab male domination has just been published in the London Arabic language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat under the title “Imagine You’re a Woman.” The author is Badriyya Al-Bishr, a lecturer in social sciences at King Saud University. The translation is by MEMRI.

“Imagine you’re a woman,” she writes. “When your brother is born, people say: ‘It’s a boy, how wonderful,’ and when you are born they say: ‘How wonderful, it’s a little girl’ — using the diminutive form. Your arrival is welcome if [you are] the first or second girl, but it’s best if there are no more than two, so that nothing undesirable happens to the mother. On the other hand, your brothers’ arrivals are welcomed — the more the merrier.

“Imagine you’re a woman. You always need your guardian’s approval, not only regarding your first marriage, as maintained by the Islamic legal scholars, but regarding each and every matter. You cannot study without your guardian’s approval, even if you reach a doctorate level. You cannot get a job and earn a living without your guardian’s approval. Moreover, there are people who are not ashamed to say that a woman must have permission to work even in the private sector.

“Imagine you’re a woman and the guardian who must accompany you wherever [you go] is your 15-year-old son or your brother, who scratches his chin before giving his approval, saying: ‘What do you think, guys, should I give her my permission?’ Sometimes he asks for … a bribe [in return], heaven forbid! [But] your brother avoids taking such a bribe in ‘cash’ because his self-respect prevents him from touching a woman’s money. So he prefers the bribe to be a car, a fridge, or an assurance of money that you will pay in installments [for him], until Allah gets him out of his financial straits.

“Imagine you’re a woman, and you are subject to assault, beatings, or murder. When the press publishes your photo [together with] the photo of the criminals and [descriptions] of their brutality, there are people who ask: ‘was the victim covered [by a veil] or not?’ If she was covered up, [the question arises:] ‘Who let her go out of the house at such an hour?’ In the event that your husband is the one who broke your ribs, [people will say] that no doubt there was good reason for it.

“Imagine you’re a woman whose husband breaks her nose, arm, or leg, and you go to the Qadi to lodge a complaint. When the Qadi asks you about your complaint, and you say, ‘He beat me,’ he responds reproachfully ‘That’s all?’ In other words, [for the Qadi], beating is a technical situation that exists among all couples and lovers, [As the saying goes]: ‘Beating the beloved is like eating raisins.’

“Imagine you’re a woman, and in order to manage your affairs you must ride in a ‘limousine’ with an Indian or Sri Lankan driver … or that you [must] wait for a younger brother to take you to work, or that you [must] bring a man who will learn to drive in your car, and will practice at your expense … because you yourself are not permitted to drive.

“Imagine you’re a woman in the 21st century, and you see fatwas [issued] by some contemporary experts in Islamic law dealing with the rules regarding taking the women of the enemy prisoner and having sexual intercourse with them. Moreover, you find someone issuing a fatwa about the rules of taking the women of the enemy prisoner even in times of peace, and you don’t know to which enemy women it refers.

“Imagine you’re a woman who writes in a newspaper, and every time you write about your [women’s] concerns, problems, poverty, unemployment, and legal status, they say about you: ‘Never mind her, it’s all women’s talk.’”

The degradation of women in the Arab world is rarely described openly. That is why the report of Madame Badriyya Al-Bishr ought to be acted upon, perhaps by an American university. Such courageous candor ought not to be ignored and who better to recognize that courage than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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